Editorial: Personnel problems

Here's a twist. The chairman of the IT&T Industry Training Advisory Board (and regional MD for Oracle) warns that Australia is in danger of being left behind unless it solves the IT skills crisis. Another expert, also from the software industry, reckons the crisis is exaggerated, and can be tackled successfully by using more efficient development tools (which incidentally, his company will sell to you).

With the shortage of IT&T professionals in Australia estimated at upwards of 30,000 by outfits such as Deloittes and projected to rise to 100,000 within a couple of years, a new report pointing to an 8.5 per cent slump in advertised IT positions is surprising. (And a bit alarming, especially when pundits in the US, the e-commerce capital of the world, count their country's skills shortage in the hundreds of thousands and US President Clinton is proposing special visas to attract 200,000 foreign IT workers).

My first reaction is to question whether advertising is a true reflection of the current job market. The Icon IT Trend Index claims that jobs needing ‘traditional high volume IT skills' are being edged out by ‘newer specialised impact' skills.

As you'd expect, the so called impact skills are those with ready application to e-commerce development and the supporting communications infrastructure. Icon counted 1514 IT skills in the market today, with 484 arriving during the past 12 months. This compares with 250 new skills for each of the past five years. For advertised positions, one-third of the skills could be slotted into the communications, network, or Internet fields, according to the report's authors. Icon added that average salaries in these ‘impact areas' grew 17.3 per cent to $71,356, easily outdoing the 10.1 per cent increase for IT salaries across the board.

That skill demand is accelerating while advertised positions slump suggests a number of things about the personnel challenges facing IT managers and current responses to staffing issues.

The challenges lie in the areas of prediction to help align skill supply with demand (a tricky exercise with 484 ‘new' skills this past year, but I suspect many new skills are updates of previous learning), strategic planning (to have an idea of what's coming), building successful training programs (should be a core activity), making effective use of partner organisations (outsourcing again), e-commerce work-team composition (what's the right technical and line-of-business mix) and, possibly, in selecting the most efficient tools and methodologies in the first place.

And I thought my job was tough.

The good news is that driving effective staff training programs and delivering successful projects will help lower staff turnover rates - and hopefully make the skills crisis less yours, and more somebody else's problem.

David_Beynon@idg.com.au

Editor in chief

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